L’Éléphant dans la Salle: un sujet tabou
The above headline doesn’t work in French. It’s pure Franglais. So, as many readers will know, it’s much better to use something like, “un sujet tabou.”
So, what’s the point?
Well, the elephant and the taboo both aptly describe the room full of problems that no one wants to talk about much in Britain these days. But, very, very softly, so that no one hears, this is what a French bureaucrat said recently in pure Franglais: “Europe needs to have the U.K. back on its horse.” And you don’t have to be with the Direction Général de la Sécurité Intérieure to work out what he’s talking about. It’s a subject that’s just beginning to creep back into private and political conversations and media headlines in both Europe and Britain.
Yes, it’s Brexit!
Years of Europe-bashing disguised as “let’s get Brexit done,” resulted in a complete breakdown of trust made between politicians and officials on both sides of La Manche.
But these two questions are on the table again:
– Would the EU have Britain back?
– And would the UK electorate ever consider getting into bed with Europe again?
The answer to the first question is that Macron has always thought Brexit was madness. And he’d love to welcome the UK back. So the answer to the first part of the question is from the President, himself, “For sure.” Then he added that he’d do it with “open arms.” An appropriate idiom answers the second: When you’ve dug yourself into a hole, it’s a good idea to think about when to stop digging.
So why all the bad blood about Brexit?
Well, it’s essentially to do with what Brexiteers were promised — and what it’s now delivering.
“Take back our borders,” was code for Brexit control on immigration. But it’s up by half a million already this year.
“Fuel bills will be lower for everyone” was the Brexit promise. But household increases are already up by 27% — and likely to go higher. So are most other prices. Raging inflation is fuelling demands for higher salaries which is leading to strikes. A very vicious circle.
Boris promised that “the £350m we send to the EU each week” would be sent to the NHS instead. But for the first time in 106 years, Royal College of Nursing staff have been driven to strike just before Christmas. Their incomes have eroded over a decade, with some workers up to 29% worse off in real terms. PM Rishi Sunak, who’s richer than King Charles, says the country can’t afford to pay the nurses a living wage.
Brexit supporters always touted a US-UK trade deal as a key benefit of leaving the EU. But President Biden has warned that Washington will not deal with London if it undermines the Northern Ireland protocol. Which Britain is trying really hard to do by threatening to make changes without EU agreement.
So very little to shout about on trade. Even the UK’s flagship deal with Australia is “not actually a very good deal,” according to a senior Tory politician.
OK OK, but there must be some Brexit positives, surely? Well, perhaps there are, so let’s try to find something.
The newly-formed European Political Community was proposed by President Macron in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. This body acts as a forum for political and strategic discussions about the future of Europe. The UK Tory press immediately denigrated it as an EU talk shop. So commentators were amazed when the inaugural meeting was attended by Liz Truss — just before she became Britain’s shortest-serving Prime Minister ever.
Even current PM Sunak, an ardent Brexiteer from day one, is making positive comments, despite his own back benches seeing it as something new to squabble about. But can it be seen as a sign that six years after the Brexit vote, the UK is having a rethink? Are some politicians thinking about rewiring the UK-EU relationship? The French definitely believe so. They see the EPC as “one of the things that bring us closer together, and gives us something to chew on.” There’s even talk of Britain hosting a future European Political Community gathering.
But Britain’s hardline chief Brexit negotiator has warned against expecting a quick fix. He made a complex scenario even more complicated when he said that it may never become clear whether leaving the EU had any economic dividend. Why? Well, because there was “so much else going on.” It could be a long wait.
Brexit and cargo cults have a lot in common. Brexiteers are remarkably like them. With their sand landing strips and bamboo planes with woven grass radios. Praying for a mythical intermediary to bless them with material prosperity. Patiently waiting in hope for the delivery of wealth and good fortune they’ve been expecting for a long, long time. And fervently believing that an abundance of manufactured products with high values and huge potential profits will suddenly be dumped on them. If not immediately, at some time in the not-too-distant future.
The cargos never arrive. But the cults live on. Because those who feel deceived will always be ready to pour their hopes, fears, and aspirations into dreams of a forthcoming golden age. Also known as pie in the sky.
The moral of the story is that fervent belief doesn’t pay the rent. And that big Brexit taboo thing is still skulking in the corner, hoping to be noticed one day.
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